Re: Wikipedia editorial policy changes signal maturity

On Sat, 24 Oct 2009 15:47:52 -0500, Miksa, Shawne wrote:

>This happened in August, but one of my students just clued me in and sent me this link–
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>http://www.pcworld.com/article/170826/wikipedia_changes_editing_policy.html
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>Last Sunday Mr. Johannesen and I were having a “spirited” discussion, a part of which involved Wikipedia’s value. I am happy to see these policy changes in how Wikipedia is edited and its information validated and I happily admit my opinion of it was not based on up-to-date information.
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>This policy change is more proof of how these type of social experiments mature and realize they must adopt the same sorts of practices that we have already instituted.

Wikipedia is another one of those areas where my thinking has turned 180 degrees. When it first came out and I realized what it was, I predicted doom and gloom and the end of civilization, but it turned out that I was wrong. It has turned out that it is not nearly so bad as I predicted and our society still seems to be standing (for the moment, and if it topples it doesn’t appear that it will be because of Wikipedia). I suspect that the changes announced by Wikipedia have more to do with saving Wikipedia from defending themselves against libel than anything else, since it deals only with pages about people who are still alive. (“You can’t libel the dead”) It seems to me that if Wikipedia were really serious about improving quality, they would apply this to more articles. That would be a major renunciation of some of Wikipedia’s main assumptions however, so I am not holding my breath.

Nevertheless, I think we all have to face facts: people will use Wikipedia because it’s easy and free and up to date, and people will just ignore anybody who says, “Don’t use Wikipedia!!!” That is, I sincerely *hope* people ignore such statements and make up their own minds. After all, if somebody wants information on Italian foreign policy, is it better to look it up in Wikipedia or in a book published by Cambridge University Press in 1968? Figuring out which sources are and are not appropriate is a very complicated task and just saying that peer reviewed publications are better than the rest is far too simplistic to be correct. The public isn’t stupid: they can see for themselves the problems with the “authoritative’ media from the NY Times to the predominance of “peer-review.”

Therefore, instead of fighting an eternal, unwinnable war against the evils of Wikipedia; since we can’t shut it down and I don’t think we should anyway, plus people demonstrably like it, we should relate to it in a different way.

We know Wiipedia is widely used since people have made it one of the most popular sites on the Internet. I checked and according to Alexa, in the last 3 months, Worldcat got 0.00363% of the users on the web, while Wikipedia got 9.821%. LibraryThing got 0.0253%. (For comparison, Google.com got 34.461%) These numbers seem to point to the way of a solution.

Why don’t librarians go where our users are and try to get involved in Wikipedia? Facebook is very popular, but I don’t believe libraries have had much luck with institutional Facebook pages. It seems that using Wikipedia may be better. How could we do it? I’m not sure, but there could be many, many, many topics where librarians could point to our materials and sites. We could point to our research guides, or all kinds of resources. Who knows what people would come up with?

Wikipedia may go along with it in some way and provide us with some kind of special displays or powers. It seems to me that if we want to raise our profiles and have a real chance of reaching our users, this is one of the best ways to do it. Certainly it woul be much more productive for everyone than the tiresome preaching that people hear, where we are always saying that “our” stuff is better than “theirs.” We could also make the catalog itself more relevant by allowing users to somehow utilize a Library API for our records. (I had to bring this back to catalogs!)

In my opinion, these directions would be highly fruitful for incorporating the library world into the world of our users. It would be cheap and pretty easy, using all parts of the library since public services would be really important, while I can imagine IT could experiment with some useful plugins for Firefox using Wikipedia and library tools.

Jim Weinheimer

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous said:

    Welcome to blogosphere Jim! I'd like to see Wikipedia integrated into library authorities, if not a primary source for authority data. It is much more useful, and often more up to date. The disambiguation pages are light years beyond the use of dates and other qualifiers in LC name and series authorities. It is also far more open than the closed, academic, and patronizing structures that

    October 26, 2009
  2. I also like the disambiguation and as a manager, I see so much duplication and "wasted effort" that needs management somewhere.

    October 29, 2009

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